Pantoliano Paints a Broad ‘Canvas’
by Paul Fischer
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At 55, Joe Pantoliano, or Joey Pants to his friends, has been a part of the Hollywood establishment for some three decades but it was 1996’s Bound that put the actor on rthe map. Memorable in the likes of The Fugitive and Memento, the actor returns to the screen in a powerful tale of mental illness, the exquisite Canvas, which will finally open to limited engagement next week. Opening up to Paul Fischer, Pantoliano talks about his own battles with depression, acting and the future.
PF: It must be very frustrating, for a special movie like this, to take its time to come out.
JP: Well, you know what, Paul, because of the budgetary restraints, it just takes that long to get the thing done. You know? We don’t have time—you know, in terms of editing, and facilities, and—everything it goes at a turtle’s crawl.
PF: This must have been a very irresistible character for you to take on, right?
JP: Well, yeah. I wanted to do this character for selfish reasons. You know me better than most, and I’m a victim of my own casting opportunity. So for me to be able to play this role, to be thrown into this situation as a character, it was very important to me, to play that part.
But it was more to offer than I ever dreamt of, and—along with the discovery of my own clinical depression, the fact that my mom was diagnosed bipolar. And also to have a creative element partnership with my partners, because my producing partners had never produced a film before. And I wanted to make sure that we were protected.
So, it was a grueling schedule. It was a wonderful partnership with the producers, Joe’s a fantastic filmmaker and Marcia Gay had so much to offer helping with the rewrite. And Joe has that rare ability, for a young guy, to understand that it’s just as important to recognize a good idea as it is to come up with one.
PF: How much of John Reno was in you?
JP: All of it. I was going through a lot. You know, in doing this movie, I realised finally after 11 years of denial and self-evaluation, that I have been suffering from clinical depression, and I’ve been in therapy since the last day of the movie. I am really getting through things, but that’s because I’m doing talk therapy, exercise, andpharmacology, so all of those elements helped to balance out. When you grow older, your body in some cases, stops producing levels of enzymes that are necessary to regulate your brain. And my serotonin levels were dramatically lowered over the years. You know, I took Lipitor for my—my cholesterol, just like I take Lexipro and Wellbutrin for the levels of serotonin that are depleted in my body, because I don’t produce them like I used to.
PF: How are you coping, then, with the clinical depression? And is acting a release for you?
JP: The coping has gotten better. I can tell. Just like when you look out the window, you get a sense that it might be a good idea to bring a raincoat and an umbrella and with me, it’s the same thing. And my family’s better off for it, I’m better off for it. I’m not explosive. And yet, it doesn’t affect my work as an actor, because my emotions are my instruments, so all of those things really add up. I’m just really excited. You know, mental illness and its effect, the idea to destigmatize, that my life is important, and my career is something that—you know, it’s a dream come true. I mean, you kind of saw, since Bound, that my career has changed, and I’m getting to play better roles, more interesting parts and those are the things that I’ve always wanted. I have a wife, and four beautiful kids and I wasn’t feeling any of it. I wasn’t feeling good, I couldn’t enjoy any of it and three or four days before I started making this movie the guy that married us, Charlie Rocket, my best friend and a good friend to all of us, committed suicide. So I was Joey up there. I mean, frankly, the character you see in the movie was really what I was going through, and struggling with the loss of Charlie.
PF: So, doing a movie like this must take a lot out of you.
JP: Man, you know. Acting is acting, but life was taking a lot out of me.
PF: Are you saying that you’re finding richer roles? You seem to be a lot more selective in what you do. Are you that selective?
JP: Well, you know, I’m that selective when I can afford to be that selective. I’m 55 years old now, and I’ve managed my money, and I’ve managed my career, and I’ve managed my savings, so there are opportunities that come my way. And depending on what my bank statement tells me, it regulates the yeas or the nays. But these are the kinds of movies that I like to do and these are the roles that I would never, ever get a chance to play in a studio movie.
PF: What do you hope that audiences are going to get out of seeing Canvas?
JP: Well, I want ‘em to be entertained and I want ‘em to evolve. You know, I want them to say, “Oh, shit. You know, I could have been nicer to Billy.” Or, “I could have been nicer to my brother.” The whole isolating fact that goes along with all of this and the stigmatization that goes along with it. I want people to say, “Holy shit. I’m gonna call up my brother, and I’m gonna give him a big kiss and a hug.”
This is a PG-13 film. I want parents to take their children, and I want people to talk about the movie after they see it. Or go and have a cup of coffee, and say, “Holy shit, I had no idea.” I have a new organization called No Kidding, Me Too Foundation and that’s to de-stigmatize and to de-isolate, and to educate. You know, mental illness does not have the luxury to be anonymous, like drug addiction and alcoholism. And so I want to be able to say, you know, I’m Joe Pantoliano, and I suffer from clinical depression.
PF: Is there a website for this?
PF: As an actor, you’re still keeping yourself busy? According to what I’ve been reading, you are working on a number of movies.
JP: Yeah. I just actually finished a film in New Mexico that I did with Sean Patrick Flanery. It’s a blood bucket movie where I play this diabolical mass murderer that’s out to get Sean. He’s kind of a Jackal character, master of disguises. It’s called To Live or Die.
PF: Is that fun, playing that kind of diabolical character?
JP: Oh, it was awesome. I mean, I played five different characters with latex faces, all different characters. And it was tremendous fun. Then I went off to Spokane, Washington. You know, we talked about the creative coalition, and these runaway productions, and creating tax credit incentives to keep the work in the United States. Well, now there’s 32 states. I actually just got offered a movie today, a comedy, that would shoot in Louisiana. But there are 32 states in the union. And Spokane’s very aggressive, very competitive, as well as New Mexico. Incredibly competitive. But I did a series last year that I produced that shot in New Orleans. I mean, in Providence, Rhode Island. They’re doing, like, 11 movies right now in Connecticut, where I live. So I’m a local hire now.
PF: And this movie, The Golden Door, what is that?
JP: The Golden Door is a romantic comedy which actually has a chance at being a really, really cool comedy, romantic comedy. This kid, Joe Cross, is a real winner.
PF: Do you think either of these movies are likely to find their way into places like Sundance?
JP: I think Golden Door, perhaps. I think not Live or Die, which is an MGM movie, that is what it is. Oh, Amateurs is finally coming out. You know, I talked to you about Amateurs four years ago. That’s opening in November.
PF: Who’s releasing that?
JP: First Look. Lauren Graham’s in it, Glenne Headly, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Isaiah Washington. It’s a big movie.
PF: What about your voice in this Legend of Secret Past?
JP: Yeah, my voice, yeah.
PF: You don’t sound too enthusiastic about that one.
JP: Yeah. Well, it’s so hard. You go in, you read these lines. You don’t know what they look like. And then they put it together, like Racing Stripes. Man, you know, it’s one of the few movies that you do, and you get to be as surprised as the audience.
PF: Have you signed on for anything else, Joey, or are you just looking at the moment?
JP: Well, you know, it’s awful busy right now, because everybody’s worried about this pending strike that’s gonna happen in June.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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